Not knowing what to else do Melkin held her. The night surrounded them, but Melkin knew that Nest was awake. She was still shaking. Melkin thought he had known, truly known, that childbirth wasn’t an easy task, but had he really? After experiencing his first wife dying in labour, he had learned to dread it. After lady Nest’s many births of their daughters, he had learned to love it. Tonight he had learned to mourn it.
They had been outside. The children had been playing whilst lady Nest were sewing in the late summer sun. Melkin had been training with his new squire, a younger relative to him that someday wished to become a knight. The day had been beautiful and Melkin had been feeling better even though the scar from the hillman’s axe was still an angry read line across his back. Having been so close to death this year Melkin had really been appreciating being back home at Hindon.
Melkin had been in the middle of explaining to Mendred the proper use of the boy’s shield when lady Nest screamed. Turning to her, Melkin had only seen the blood-filled water that had covered lady Nest’s dress. She had only been in her fifth month.
Now, Melkin hugged her and tried not to think about the unnamed girl who had been born. It had been so very small, and there had been nothing to do for it. Nest was clearly not feeling well, hugging her abdomen and shaking silently. Then, she suddenly loosened his hands around her and moved away from him.
“Won’t you let me help carry your pain?” Melkin asked, feeling the rejection.
She lay quiet and unmoving, not answering. Melkin sighed and rolled over onto his back and gave out a muffled groan as he accidentally put pressure on the healing wound.
“She was my daughter too,” he said then, “and I know you think I do not care but I do.”
“You think you know the pain of having lost a child?” Nest said turning towards him. He could see her eyes in the dark. They almost seemed to be glowing.
“I have lost two,” he answered.
“_Indeg_ wasn’t yours,” she murmured about to turn away from him again.
“She was,” Melkin argued giving his wife a sidelong look. “As much as Cadry is my brother and Cerys is my mother. She might not had been mine alone, but she was my daughter.”
Nest’s eyes narrowed. For a moment Melkin was unsure what she was going to do. Her face looked determined in a way he had never seen it before. Then, she suddenly slid her arms onto his chest putting more pressure onto the newly healed wound. Melkin groaned again, feeling angry at this sudden behaviour.
“If that pain never leaves you,” said Nest and pushed harder. “Then you know mine.”
As much as anything it was a reflex, and Melkin put his arms around her and drew her full weight on top of him.
“Then lie here my lady,” he grunted pulling her firmly against him, “and let me know your pain.”
She struggled for half a moment, but Melkin saw the surprised look on her face. He held her in place, and she soon grew still, her head on his shoulder. It was a battle of wills but after about an hour her breath finally deepened and slowed.
There had been good moments between them, “hadn’t there?” Melkin thought as the pain in his back grew worse still. They had been married for eight years, almost as long as Cadry and Brangwen, and while Melkin didn’t love Nest in any way near as madly as Cadry loved Brangwen, he cared for his wife. Sometimes, he felt that maybe Nest’s happiest moments had been when she had been staying with the monks at Saint Evasius Abbey, away from Hindon, away from him. He knew he shouldn’t have asked her to kill him. It hadn’t been right, but Melkin had been sick and he had thought that she might actually do it. He had wronged her and it definitely hadn’t improved their marriage.
Melkin didn’t know when it had happened, but sometime amongst his thought, he must have fallen asleep. He heard his name being called from far away and he opened his eyes. The Roman Villa surrounded him, but somehow this wasn’t a surprise at all. Melkin found himself following he path that he had walked years before in another dream. A familiar staircase took him down in spirals and then out into the Perilous forest. There was no flutter of wings, no crow this time to lead the way, but Melkin knew where to go.
He walked slowly while his surroundings gradually changed from late summer to autumn. When he finally arrived at the round ominous lake the first snowflakes started to fall around him. There was no ice. The lake lay open as a round black mirror. The wounded back hurt worse in the cold and Melkin decided against going into the dark waters even though he felt drawn in that direction. There was no hurry. Instead he stood by the water edge, waiting.
No wind blew, all was quiet.
Then, a tall man appeared on the other side. He removed his shoes and as he took his first step out unto the unmoving water a soft light seemed to come of his body.
“Saint Alban”, Melkin thought as he kneeled before the other man. It had to be. He knew in it heart that it was so, and he felt safe. As safe as the last time they had met here by the murky waters.
“You called me,” Melkin said when the man had passed over to him.
“Yes,” said the other man in a warm and soft voice, “Years ago I asked you to come here, and you have fulfilled your promise to do so.” Gently the tall man loosened the fastener. “Now, hard times are afoot,” he continued while tenderly sliding his druid cloak around Melkin’s shoulders, “and therefore I will lend you this.”
As the cloak touched Melkin’s back he felt as if all his worries was lifted from his heart. His sorrows were lifted, his pain removed and his chest filled with purpose.
“Tell me Melkin,” said the tall man leaning down kissing Melkin on his forehead, “do you remember?”
“I do.” Melkin woke from his own voice uttering the words. He stared up into the roof above him. He did not, in fact, remember whatever it was that Saint Alban had asked him about, and he didn’t know why he had said that he did. Lying in the bed though, he felt light, as if some indefinable burden had been cut loose. He felt like a useful knife, or a good sword that had been sharpened.
His gaze dropped to his wife who still sleeping on his shoulder.
“If that pain never leaves you…” he murmured. At least her shaking had stopped.